In a Distinguished Career, Olympics were Highlights for O'Neill

By Richard Finn | Oct. 11, 2017, 6:25 a.m. (ET)

Sean O’Neill had a long and distinguished playing career.  He won the under 11,13, 15 and 17 age national titles. He was five-time USA National singles champion – 1985, ’87, ’88, 89 and 1991 – five time US men’s doubles winner and six-time U.S. mixed doubles champion. O’Neill won 28 U.S. Olympic Sports Festival medals.

He was inducted into the U.S. Hall of Fame in 2007.

But, the proudest moments of his accomplished career were when he was wearing the red, white and blue and representing the United Sates in international competitions.

“Qualifying for the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Games were definitely major accomplishments during my career,” wrote O’Neill in a recent email to USATT officials from his home in Portland, Oregon.  “Representing the US Team in World Championships, Pan Ams, and World Cups were honors I always cherished.”

The unique atmosphere of the Olympics with the pomp and circumstance of the Opening and Closing ceremonies, the time spent in the athlete village and the opportunity to meet other Olympians are treasured memories for the 50-year-old.

“Both Seoul and Barcelona were hosted very differently.  Where Seoul was very structured and orderly, Barcelona was very festive and laid back.” recalled O’Neill. 

“Visiting with members of Team USA in the Village is always a highlight as it is a chance to see old friends and a chance to meet new ones.  In 1988, I hung out with the US Archery Team during my down time and in 1992 I got a chance to meet a couple of the Dream Teamers (Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, etc.). 

“Both Opening Ceremonies were unique in their own way.  The lighting of the torch at the 1992 Games with an archer’s flaming arrow was amazing while the Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis 100 meter race was epic in 1988.  Trading pins/shirts and dealing with the media is always fun,” remembered O’Neill.

O’Neill took home two gold, five silver and one bronze medal from his four Pan American Game appearances. He was never able to quite duplicate that success at the Olympics finishing tied for 41 in singles in 1988 and tied for 33 in singles in1992. That year he also played doubles with Jimmy Butler finishing tied for 25.

“In 1992, I lost a heart breaker 21-19 in the third to defending Olympic Singles Medalist, Yoo Nam Kyu (KOR) after beating Santiago Roque (CUB) and losing to Lo Cheun Tsung (HKG),” wrote O’Neill. 

At the 2016 Games in Rio, the U.S. fielded full men and women’s teams for the first time since 1992. O’Neill is excited and optimistic about U.S. participation and results in future Olympics.

“I cheered and was so thrilled to see Tom, Kanak and Timmy qualify in Canada along with Lily, and Jiaqi. Jennifer winning the Pan Ams was awesome to punch her ticket first,” wrote O’Neill, who has been a NBC color analyst for table tennis at the last four Olympics. 

Through his work today as a member of the USATT High Performance Committee and a busy coach at the Paddle Palace Club in Tigard, OR. O’Neill will have a role in developing future U.S. Olympians.

 “I would hope that we will continue to have greater depth than Canada which will allow us to maximize the two singles spots and team slots for Tokyo, Paris and Los Angeles,” wrote O’Neill.